Interviewed by Adam Lyons, NECN

What’s your background?

I worked for Bonneville Power for 38 years – started there as a student – then recently retired last October. During that time I started a cupcake business in 2008. After I retired I knew I wanted to get back into this but we couldn’t survive just off cupcakes. My kids always encouraged me to open up a restaurant because people used to come over to my house after church on Sundays and bring their families for a good meal and desserts. I knew I had a knack: I learned most of my skills from my grandmother and my late mother-in-law and my sister-in-law. 

What’s on the menu?
Our specialty is our deep-fried ribs. Second to that is our po’boy sandwiches [which] have just taken off completely. Then in the dessert department our gourmet sweet potato cupcake, and I created our own sweet potato coconut cake with pineapple filling and that has just taken off.

What do you think is the importance of soul food to people?
It just takes people back home, back to their roots. It’s just something about the Southern hospitality that brings back a lot of childhood memories, just some down home cooking!

Another reason I started it was there was no place to get soul food in Portland nearby. There are very few places that sell soul food, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring the community back together [and] reestablish the traditions of black-owned businesses being on MLK. It’s wonderful to see people from all walks of life come in to support my business, but it’s become like a gathering place for people. Seeing a lot of friends, people I haven’t seen in years, it’s been a good experience.

What advice would you give to someone interested in opening a food cart?

I recommend doing markets to test your product, see how your product does. What’s my competition? Sample other food carts and do a business plan and really count up the costs. Ask what am I going to sacrifice? Because it is going to require full-time energy. Most importantly have some good tasters. You gotta have heart to produce excellence, that’s something my grandma taught me. If you are going to do it, do it right.

What’s the future hold for Ja’Das?

My ultimate goal was to have my own dessert or cupcake shop so right now that’s still part of my vision. I just hope to keep the soul food going as long as my family will come along with me. It’s also really important to give back to the community by giving financial and food donations to nonprofits. My dream is to be able to offer student scholarships as well.

Ja’das is located at 7339 NE MLK Jr. Blvd.